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Inclusive behaviour may prevent bullying claims
Dec 4, 2014

Inclusive behaviour may prevent bullying claims

There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.

-Pablo Picasso

In my work, I am often appointed as an independent investigator in relation to complaints of workplace behaviour – most often these are bullying complaints and occasionally sexual harassment.    Complaints of sexual  harassment are often difficult because without witnesses it is usually a case of ‘he said, she said’.  Occasionally there will be a ‘smoking gun’.

In relation to bullying, these cases are difficult for entirely different reasons.  I often say that ‘bullying is in the eye of the beholder’.  What might be perceived as bullying by one person would not bother another.  Regardless of the sensitivities of the complainant, bullying claims all have to be investigated in light of the relevant legislative definitions, which involve what is meant to be an objective test but is in fact the very subjective test of reasonableness.

A few things have been made clear over the course of my work in this area, combined with the work I have done with Diversity Partners recently in relation to inclusive leadership.  Inclusion is about how people feel at work, and it is possible to bully by exclusion.  So the very behaviours that go with being an inclusive leader can also help prevent  a bullying claim.

We often attribute certain behaviours to a person rather than a situation they are in.  I can recall starting a new school in year 6 – it was a small school and I started in the middle of a term. There were 16 eleven year olds in the class before I joined.  Binna Kandola talks about the effects of ‘In Groups’ and ‘Out Groups’ in his book ‘The Value of Difference:  Eliminating Bias in Organisations' and I was very much a one girl member of the out group that year.  That group of students made me feel isolated, strange, different and unwelcome.  I can recall walking into the classroom and they were looking at my report card from my previous school which had been on the teacher’s desk, and one of them said ‘you must think you’re really smart’.  I said nothing.  I was very quiet and tried to physically shrink in the classroom.  After a while I became angry and my natural extraversion kicked in and I started fighting back verbally.  This made it worse of course.

I was then labelled arrogant, rude, and bitchy.

Did I feel bullied?  Absolutely.  Did they intend to make me feel like that?  Probably not. 

Children of course don’t think as adults – but imagine the above scenario in a work situation.  A new team member starts, and feels excluded, different.  She sees the team members looking at her CV or performance review documents and making snarky comments.  She goes quiet then gets angry.  Does she feel bullied? Absolutely.  Did they intend to make her feel like that?  Probably not.  But the potential for a bullying claim is there.

Had this behaviour been properly attributed to the situation and NOT the person, the result would have been entirely different.  Had those school children or the team members chosen to think and act inclusively, the situation would never have deteriorated.  So think about your behaviour – are you acting inclusively?  Are you inviting this person to be involved, getting to know them, asking how they are getting on, offering to help with the new environment and introducing them to the people they need to know?

Inclusive behaviour, along with reflection on your communication style, will go a long way to preventing a bullying claim